We all remember our first camera, whether it was digital, 35mm or Polaroid. But we might not remember taking our first picture.
And why not? Because most of us started taking photographs when we were little.
There’s something about cameras that draws kids like a magnet. Teaching a child how to take pictures could be the spark that starts a life-long interest.
Grab your kid, or a friend’s kid (or that strange toddler that followed you home from the convenience store after you bought two cases of Tastykakes) and open their eyes to the world of photography!
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk
What Camera to Use
If that makes you nervous, the kid will pick up on it, and they’ll be nervous too. This is supposed to be fun!
The best way to get over your anxiety is to use a camera you don’t really care about when you’re teaching. Use an old one, or pick up a cheap used model, or even use a disposable camera. That way you won’t get anxious or mad if an accident happens.
If you want to get your kid their own camera, there are plenty of kid-friendly models on the market, ranging from $15 to more than $100. V-Tech and Fisher-Price make digital cameras for the 2 to 6-year-old age range. Alpha+Mom and ZRecs both have good reviews of kid-specific cameras.
Older kids (8 and up) can generally handle simple point-and-shoot models. Choose an entry-level, user-friendly model, but don’t spend a ton of money. There’s still that whole dropping-the-camera issue to consider.
If you use a point-and-shoot, keep the camera on auto for now. You can teach them about shutter speeds and apertures later on.
Oh yeah, and be sure to teach them to turn the camera off when they’re done. Good to learn that early.
Kid, Meet Camera. Camera, Meet Kid.
Before you start teaching your wee small youngun about the joys of picture-taking, cut a rectangular “viewfinder” out of a cereal box. Give it to the kid and let them run around framing “pictures” for a few hours.
When they start using the camera for real, let them know that whatever they see in the frame will be in the picture: fingers, camera straps, whatever.
Kids have a thing about taking lots of pictures of the exact same subject. Set a limit on how many shots they can take of the same thing. Start with one or two at first, then let them take more once they understand how to use different angles, etc.
Set a limit even if it’s all digital and you don’t plan to print everything out. It’s just a good habit to get into early.
Handling the Camera
Don’t be too precious when you’re handling the camera (remember, it’s supposed to be fun!) but don’t wave it around like crazy either, because the kid will do what you do.
Get into good camera habits: use the straps and handle the camera the way you want your child to handle it. They’ll watch you for cues about what to do, so be a good role model.
Show the kid each part of the camera (lens, eyepiece, shutter button, etc.) and tell them what it does. They’ll learn quicker if they know which part does what.
What To Teach
Hold the camera still. If your kid is too young to hold the camera without wobbling, have them steady it on a chair or table before shooting.
Hold the camera level. This is one of those rules that you have to learn before intentionally breaking it later on.
Choose a point of interest. This is the basic-est of basics. Have them practice getting their subject in the viewfinder at first, then work up to showing them how to make that subject more interesting by moving closer, or trying a different angle.
Get in close. This is the easiest way for a kid to emphasize their subject. Show them how moving forward a few steps or backing up a few steps changes the way the subject looks.
Experiment! This is where the fun comes in. Give the kid the camera and let ‘em go nuts. What does it look like when you take pictures from under the table? What happens when you take pictures up your brother’s nose? No wrong answers here.
How To Teach
Tailor your information to the age and intelligence level of the child you’re teaching. For example, a five-year-old will understand framing, but probably won’t get the concept of juxtaposing light and dark for dramatic impact.
Don’t try to lump too many ideas into one teaching session. Introduce the kid to one or two concepts at a time, then let them take the camera & try out those ideas. Make sure the kid gets to play!
When the happy, tired rugrat comes back with their photos, go over their results together. Show them which pictures are really good, and tell them why (you can skip quietly over the ones that aren’t so hot).
As the kid learns, you can introduce more advanced topics like shadows and perspective. If there’s something you love to photograph, teach them how to do that! Stick with what you know, and you can’t go wrong.
There are loads of good articles out there about teaching photography to kids. Here are the ones we liked best:
- Teaching Photography to a 5-year-old
- Teaching Kids to Take Good Pictures
- Getting Kids Started in Digital Photography
- 13 Lessons to Teach Your Child About Photography
National Geographic has a just-for-kids section on their website, with photos, games, and info for wee photographers.
Daelan Wood handed his camera over to his three-year-old, and made a website that showcases the results.